School of Hard-Knocks: A Q&A with Top Chef Fabio Viviani

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If you watch Bravo’s Top Chef, you no doubt remember Fabio Viviani, the charismatic Italian named “Fan Favorite” in Season 5. And if you’ve eaten at one of Fabio’s 15 restaurants, including Siena Tavern in Chicago, you know he is one of the most talented chefs in the world. What you might not realize is that Fabio is also a multifaceted and courageous entrepreneur.

Born in 1978, Fabio grew up in Florence, Italy and started working the overnight shift in a local bakery at age 11. After training under some of Italy’s most iconic culinary figures, he opened his first restaurant at just 18 years old. In 2005, Fabio moved to the United States penniless and without a word of English.

Today, Fabio’s accomplishments are impossible to capture in a single sentence let alone in a whole interview. Between his bestselling cookbooks, acclaimed restaurant brands, cookware lines, startup investments, winery, and new educational platform, Know-How Leadership Academy, Fabio’s entrepreneurship defies categorization. In this Q&A, we’ll dig into Fabio’s recipe for success.

Fabio, when people ask what you do for a living, how do you answer today?

My mom would love to understand this answer herself! I started my career as a chef and a restaurateur and I still am. I own 15 restaurants throughout the United States with more coming. I still cook many days of the week in all my Chicago restaurants, but in the last few years, I’ve also become a very savvy tech investor. I have my own production company and I do my own media content as well as publish my own cookbooks. So I wear a lot of hats, but I am happiest with the jobs that are related to food.

Who have been your most important mentors? What are the three most important lessons you learned from them?

I haven’t had a lot of mentors because I opened my first restaurant when I was 18 years old, so my mentor was the school of hard knocks. Meaning, every time you knock on a door and it doesn’t fall down, that’s a lesson learned. So, the most valuable lesson I’ve learned by making mistakes is do it right, or do it twice. The second lesson I’ve learned is that complaining gives you something to do, to keep you busy, but it takes you nowhere. The third lesson I’ve learned is to stay away from stupid people.

Read the rest on Forbes.

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